Monday, 23 June 2014

Pecos Wilderness

On to the Southern end of the Sangre De Christo range: above Santa Fe loom the Pecos mountains. Best wildlife encounter of the trip so far. We saw herds of elk cows with calves, bighorn ewes and rams, marmots, pika, eagles and of course ravens. 35 miles and 5000 feet ascent, a high camp below a melting snow patch which provided water just under the ridge at 12500 feet. The alpine flora is about to swing into full spring mode. Simply lovely!
Found marine fossils on the ridge and met a family with pack-lamas...

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Sangre de Cristo mountains backpack

The main Rockies mountains have a LOT of snow this June so we visited another range in the south east of Colorado with a little less snow for a 4 day backpack. It turned out to be a beautiful trip in a wild area where we crossed 5 high passes up to 4000m with some snow and ferocious winds to add some excitement!

Saw bear tracks, bald eagles, herds of elk with their young, marmots, plenty of beaver signs (see pic of gnawed aspen) and no people once away from the trailhead.

Colorado Rockies

We left the hot desert of southern Utah to return back to the Colorado Rockies visiting the Martin family in Montrose Colorado and doing some hikes into the Rocky mountains. It was nice to hear bubbling streams and to see lush forest and mountains again.

We revisited Lake City where we had resupplied in 2009 on the CDT and where our favourite cannibal in history, Alferd Packer, ate his victims and was later tried.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Normal tourists!

After hiking and kayaking about 700 miles we have come to the end of the Hayduke Trail, our intended route. We have now picked up a rental car and are roaming around heading back to Colorado in general like proper tourists. No longer do we have to explain to incredulous American travellers that "we have no car" - something that seemed v hard for most to grasp if indeed it ever fully sunk in.

But we are still not done with canyons! We visited 'Zion narrows'  a famous and super popular canyon hike. We managed to avoid both the heat and crowds by getting up at 4am!

Also pics of Cedar Breaks National Monument, with its cool high elevation temperatures (10,500 feet) it was lovely to visit.

Sent from the Sleepy Hollow motel, Green River Southern Utah.

Final hike to Zion National Park

1st June Mt Carmel Junction to East Fork Virgin River 15.5 miles
We hitched out of Kanab and chose to rejoin the Hayduke by hiking down another route down the Virgin River from Mt Carmel junction. We started out down a jeep track following the river valley, half a mile south of the junction into an area called White Cliffs. The views out to these cliffs on either side of the wide valley were beautiful, the walking was easy for a while and the temperature today was refreshingly just warm. This was a lovely colourful hike with pink, red, yellow and white rock set against a clear blue sky.
White Cliffs

Heading west, we left the jeep track, sometimes to hike through the brush on either side of the river and sometimes finding it easier to hiking down the river itself.

Dropping the rucksacks at the junction with Mineral Gulch, we explored this canyon to the north which was a worthwhile trip up a narrow steep walled canyon of Navajo Sandstone with some deep caves.

Mineral Gulch
Mineral Gulch
Back in the main river as the heat kicked in again, we collected the backpacks and hiked westwards as the canyon narrowed nicely with some big alcoves and deep red walls. We passed Rock Canyon where the Hayduke joined our river from the south and hiked another 4.5 miles of grand deep canyon called the Barracks- but Parunuweap is the Payute Indian name. Much of the hiking was in the roaring waters of the river itself now with the steep walls restricting hiking on the side banks -but this was fantastic hiking.

At about 18.30 we found a sandy bench to camp next to the river flanked by steep walls. We hoped for no flash floods in the night but the weather looked dry and stable overhead. 
The Barracks
The Barracks
The Barracks
Camp in the Barracks
2nd June East Fork Virgin River to Zion Weeping Wall 18.5 miles
We were away from camp at 6.15 am splashing down the river between brilliant red steep canyon walls. As we progressed, the river got deeper and deeper, fed from many side springs such that we were thigh deep in water on occasions. After a couple of miles we reached a boulder jam where the river plunged noisily over into a deep pool. We avoided this obstacle by a climb up leftwards and then a subterranean descent down a chock stone chimney to exit below the blockage.

Back in the river we continued more easily to the 'Fat Man's Misery' junction and our exit of the canyon on the Hayduke route just beyond. The Barracks had been a wonderful experience and we were so glad we were wrapping up our Hayduke hike in such magnificent, world class scenery.

We still had 15 miles to go though, so we stopped to collect and treat some water, had some food and emptied our shoes of the gravel from so much river wading.

The exit climb was bushy and Martina spotted some poison ivy which we hoped that we avoided. But there were signs of use from other hikers as we scrabbled up through some scrub to exit onto more open slickrock slabs. With the odd cairn to help us we then continued onto easier faint trails on flatter ground as we heading north.

This was completely different to the deep canyon with red, gold and orange slick rock slabs on an undulating plateau and quite stunning in its own way. After skirting some mesas, we turned north to climb up a steep sided tree filled slot to a col. The views around here reminded us of Tuolumne Meadows in California and it had a great mountainous feel. Dropping down north through the slot like valley we passed by a couple of other parties of hikers before hitting the Zion National Park road.

It was 11.30 am now and we had been hiking for 5 hours and the heat had crept up into the 30's C so we had a stop in the shade in view of Checkerboard Mesa - a wonderfully creased slabby mini-mountain

We headed on on good trail but the heat makes for hard going. Reaching Stave Spring we find that it is all but dry with just an intermittent drip every few seconds. We had only 5 miles to hike though and soon drop into the scenic steep walled valleys that Zion is famous for. A 2,500 foot descent and we make it to our trail end and the road.

Sadly the horrid heat somewhat detracted from the splendor of Zion valley and we headed out by bus quickly to escape the furnace! We vowed to return some day to give the park the attention it deserves.

Despite the heat of our last couple of weeks in the Grand Canyon and Zion, what a fantastic hike we have had on our own version of the Hayduke. The mix of beautiful red rock canyons, riparian green waterways, dry desert plateau and high forests has won us over.  The variety and challenge of the terrain from scrambling through canyons and their sidewalls, wading rivers, hacking our way through scrub and enjoying some relaxing contrast of trails and jeep tracks was brilliant. Rather than being tired of this part of the world we are desperate to return!

Slick rock hiking as we headed into Zion National Park
Checkerboard Mesa, Zion National Park
Looking down to the finish of the Hayduke Trail in Zion National Park

Exit from the Grand Canyon

26th May Grand Canyon South Rim
We met up with Li Brannfors and friends Jen and Jasper who kindly let us stay with them in their South Rim national park lodgings. Today was a lovely relaxing day, catching up with things on the internet, eating lots and generally chilling out.
We reserved a campsite at Cottonwood Campground for our intended crossing of the Grand Canyon tomorrow to the North Rim. Well, it was almost booked out, but we got a place in the overflow mule area!

27th May Grand Canyon South Rim to Cottonwood Creek 18 miles
Alarm at 4.30 am Utah time (3.30 Arizona time!). Thanks to Li for a great stay!
Off hiking around 4.20 in the dark to reach the rim of the canyon again to start descending the Bright Angel trail into the canyon. We dropped height easily on a zigzagging path in a valley, soon heading into the shade of beautiful green cottonwoods and flowing water at Indian Creek campground.

Following good trail down easily into the inner gorge of the canyon led us into different rock types of schists and granites to the Colorado river itself. We were able to cross the river on a suspension bridge here and hiked a short distance to Phantom Ranch (this is a park lodge and campsite set in a deep side canyon near the bottom of the Grand). We made it by 8.20 am after a 10 mile easy, scenic and enjoyable descent. Both glad to have started so early though as it was already roasting (maybe 30 C) at Phantom Ranch even this early.

Picking up water, we had a look at the canteen and 1920's style chalet buildings which all look pretty nice. But we headed on and now had the uphill part of the day ahead of us climbing towards the North Rim of the canyon on the popular North Kiabab trail. The hiking was on good trails, firstly following a stream flowing through a deep canyon made of ruptured schists and pegmatites- this rock scenery was very much like that in Scotland and was familiar to us!

The heat really cranked up though after about 1 and half hours hiking when the valley opened out and we had less shelter from the sizzling sun. A stop in the shade by the river revived us after we soaked our T-shirts in the river and wore them wet to cool us a little. It worked!

It was a relief to stop at a waterfall - 'Ribbon Falls' at 11 am for another cool down. We hid there from the sun for almost 6 hours under a deep mossy overhang with stalagtites; reading, dozing and chilling out under the waterfall. Some wild mint made for delicious tea and we had some frogs for company - perfect! Our thermometer recorded 36 C in the shade.

Eventually in the evening we hiked onwards, climbing up to Cottonwood campground which remained uncomfortably hot into the late evening.
The bridge over the Colorado River

28th May Grand Canyon Cottonwood Creek to North Rim 8 miles
It was uncomfortably hot overnight and at 3.30 am it was still 24 C and we decided to get up and hike on. Leaving at 4.20 am in the dark felt good and the trail was clear with head torches- climbing upwards towards the rim at 9,000 feet where we hoped it would be cooler!

Above Roaring Springs the light crept in and the scenery was beautiful with red rock walls and a 'Dolomitic' style trail traversing cliff edges. We made it to the top at the North Rim after about 3 hours and it was refreshingly chilly - it felt good to wear a fleece again. Also there was Ponderosa, White fir, Douglas fir and Aspen trees around, a great contrast to the dry inner Grand Canyon.

North Rim has a national park visitor centre, lodge, campsite and lots of tourists but is quiet compared with South Rim and we liked it. We find the laid back campers store and have a relaxed coffee and cake on the veranda- excellent!

Our dinner was a luxury mix of Idaho mash potato, black beans and salad, washed down with a bottle of Chardonnay- way hey! A campsite talk by park rangers on bats ends a wonderful relaxing day after the early start.

29th May North Rim rest day 4 miles
We were both happy to chill out today and take a stroll around the North Rim of the Grand Canyon for the views.

The evening park ranger talk is 'Ravens' - a specialty and love of Martina's!

The heat of the inner Grand Canyon had been getting to us and we agree not to do the next section of the Hayduke which descends back into the canyon for a particularly tough hike where we felt that the heat would prevent us enjoying the marvelous scenery. We will need to come back earlier in spring or in autumn some day to do that!!!

Instead we decide to hike out north on the Arizona Trail tomorrow to the National Park entrance to complete a loop hike in the Grand Canyon National Park. Then to hitch back to near Zion National Park to do the final two days of the Hayduke Trail. It's disappointing not to continue on the Hayduke but we would have been miserable hiking in these hot temperatures.
On the North Rim of Grand Canyon

30th May North Rim visitor centre to North park entrance on AZT 14 miles
After posting our 'float box' of spare supplies at the PO to Zion National Park, we hike north at around 9.40 am on the Arizona Trail. It was easy going through green forest of aspen and ponderosa in cool conditions at 9,000 feet - hoorah!

We caught up with another hiker- Shawney(?)- running the AZT, covering 30-45 miles per day. We caught him at our walking pace because he had run up from the bottom of the Grand Canyon in the morning and had now slowed down after that huge climb. After a fun chat we leave him and hike on and reach the north entrance of the park where we quickly hitched a lift north to Jacob Lake resort.
Hiking on the Arizona Trail through aspen
Brian at Jacobs Lake
31st May Jacob Lake to Kanab 0 miles
We took a day off today as Martina was feeling ill and we lucked out with a direct hitch to Kanab health centre (thanks!) and got taken straight away, diagnosed and antibiotics administered- our travel insurance was worth the money!